Sunday, February 08, 2004

Baptismal Regeneration?

Some one wrote me and asked “What are your thoughts on the debate about baptismal regeneration?"

Here is my short response:

I believe there are two extremes on this question.

One extreme makes water baptism to be an almost magical event. They believe that sins are truly washed away with the waters of baptism and there is no salvation outside of actual baptism. I disagree with this point.

The other extreme is that there is nothing more to baptism than an outward showing and a memorial of Christ death and resurrection. (Zwinglian/Baptist view) I disagree here too.

I believe the truth is between the two extremes. Baptism is a sacrament that truly does something (covenantally speaking). It unites us to the Church of Jesus Christ, where there is salvation. We are covenantally joined to Christ at baptism whether we mean it or not. It's like a marriage ceremony. If a man goes through the ceremony he becomes joined to his wife and is one with her. He may or may not be sincere when he takes the vow, but this does not change the objective fact that he is now married and a husband. He is responsible to be faithful to his vow and should be held accountable for it.

There is no magic in the marriage ceremony, but the status of the persons involved in it is truly changed in the eyes of both God and man. The same is true in baptism. Those that have been baptized are truly in covenant with Christ. Are they truly born again? Christ knows; you and I do not. We cannot see into their hearts, just as we cannot see into the heart of the new husband, but covenantally we are, with our baptism, now outwardly and objectively in Christ.

If a man and woman have sex the night before their marriage, he and she have committed the sin of fornication, but after they are married then the sexual relations between them are holy and beautiful before God. The only difference between sex before marriage and sex after marriage is a ceremony, but that covenant ceremony (marriage), while not magical, dramatically changes the relationship between a man and a women in the sight of God. Sex before the marriage ceremony is a terrible sin, but afterwards it is holy.

We live in an age where ceremony is not held in high esteem, but in the Word of God ceremonies are of great importance. Baptism is such a ceremony. Without baptism we are objectively counted as being of the world, but with it we are covenantally joined to Christ.

There are now and always have been those in Christ (i.e. baptised), who are not believers, and this is why we find numerous statements like the following in Scripture:

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

One must first be connected to the vine if he is a branch that is cut off and burned. I believe it is clear here that all those that are branches are not born again, because if they were they would continue to abide in Christ. All the branches are truly, covenantally connected to Christ. Those that do not continue to abide in Him are cut off and thrown into the fire as are those unbelievers outside the covenant.

When we come to children and infant baptism I think a citizenship analogy is valid. Christian children are born into the covenant and they are to keep it. They are born to privilege because they are born in covenant. They have a very different status in God’s sight than do the children of non-believers. Paul makes this very point in 1 Cor. 7:14. Here in his epistle we read that the children of unbelievers are "unclean"(Gk: akathartos), but the child who has at least one believing parent is in God’s sight “holy.” The word translated here as “holy” (Gk: hagios) can just as accurately be translated as “saints” as it is in other places.

Covenant children, like converts, are called on to make their salvation and election sure through repentance faith and obedience to Christ and His Word, but just like the baptised convert, the baptized child is truly and objectively in Christ.

Dominus Vobiscum,

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